Posts Tagged ‘Redware’

The Used To Be Highway

November 29, 2015

The modern redware potter drives home from a show pondering crazy thoughts like “why am I doing all this,” and “does everything I do look backward?” (stylistically to earlier eras, financially to better shows, etc.)  The redware potter is traveling the Used To Be Highway.

Such a highway exists, of course, but not necessarily in the depressing way described above.  Interpreting historical styles, like redware, falls solidly along a venerable continuum of reproductions, copies, and revivals (and fakes and forgeries) made since ancient times.

Romans, fascinated by earlier Etruscan pottery, commissioned Etruscan style work for many of their lavish pavilions.  Chinese potters copied older work to honor past masters.  Medieval European artisans made historical reproductions for holy pilgrimage tourists.  Copies of 16th century Siegburg stoneware, often from original 16th century molds, were popular during the late 19th century German Gothic revival.  The nascent 19th century American tourist industry considered historical work a patriotic act.  And maintaining traditional cultural expressions in the face of changing times has motivated artists throughout time.

Blue and white pottery gets complicated.  This idea went back and forth in so many ways across the globe that it almost resembles light.  Is light (for example) a wave or a particle?  Is Delft (for example) a copy or an original style?

Then there’s fakes and forgeries. What appears to be simple malfeasance (and often is) can also be a complex issue.  Was early Delftware a forgery?  Are fakes worse than pilfered archeological sites?  What of desperate families peddling fake artifacts in impoverished but historically significant areas, or the work of Ai Wei?

Copying masterpieces was for centuries a principle method of arts instruction.  Intense observational and technical skills are required, and honed, when studying historical artifacts in this way.  A simple test illustrates this point: make two mugs, one which you thought up in your head, the other as an exact replica of someone else’s mug.  Ask yourself afterwards which effort stretched your skills more?

It’s tempting to draw some meaningful conclusion about why potters today might work within historical styles, given the array of available paths.  (Or are these stylistic options just interpretations of a different sort?).  But regardless of the route they took to get there, or the bumps along the way, many potters (and other artisans) who make historically based work will tell you – it’s just tremendously fun to do.

Readings:

Decorated Stoneware Pottery of North America.  Donald Webster.  Charles Tuttle Co./Rutland, VT.  1971.

Dutch Pottery and Porcelain.  Pitcairn Knowles.  Scribner’s/New York.  1940.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  Reginald Haggar.  Hawthorn Books/ New York.  1960.

If These Pots Could Talk.  Ivor Noel Hume.  University Press of New England/Hanover, NH.  2001.

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries.   John Thomas.  Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.

Stoneware: White Salt-Glazed, Rhenish and Dry Body.  Gérard Gusset.  National Historic Parks and Sites Branch, Parks Canada, Environment Canada/Ministry of the Environment, Ottawa, Canada.  1980.

Unearthing New England’s Past: The Ceramic Evidence.  Exhibition Catalogue.  Museum of Our National Heritage/Lexington, MA.  1984.

Spartacus

July 19, 2015

Militia units from surrounding towns faced the angry crowd.  The militia captain demanded, “Who is your leader?”  The entire crowd shouted, “I’m the leader!”  This confrontation might bring to mind a famous scene from the 1960 film Spartacus.  But it actually took place on March 7, 1799 in Easton, PA., during what is known as the Fries Rebellion.

The Fries Rebellion was one of many, like the Shay’s and the Whiskey Rebellions, that immediately followed the Revolutionary War.  These uprisings rose from tensions between Revolutionary ideals of egalitarian self-determination, and problems of nation building with a centralized power structure.  In post-Revolutionary terms: (egalitarian) Republicanism vs. (centralized) Federalism.

The Fries Rebellion occurred in German communities of Pennsylvania’s Northampton,  Montgomery, and Bucks counties.  German immigrants had been near the bottom of the social ladder since establishing themselves in the area several decades earlier.  They were drawn to the fringes of colonial society by the allure of freedom from impoverished servitude back home.  Pennsylvanian Anglicans and Quakers, however, considered them ignorant, lawless, and alien.

Along came the Revolutionary War and it’s egalitarian promise.   Here was a chance to socially advance by joining the cause, enlisting in the Continental Army, and proving themselves as patriotic – and equal – citizens.

The Fries Rebellion, like Spartacus’ slave revolt, was quickly put down.  Unlike Spartacus, who was nailed to a pole by the Roman army, the Fries Rebellion’s nominal Republican leader John Fries (the whole point was that there should be no ‘leaders’) got a presidential pardon by Federalist John Adams.  Furthermore, the status of German communities continued to grow.

As Germans fought to secure a place in the new order, they began proudly displaying their ‘German-ness’ for all to see through quilting, illuminated manuscripts, furniture, and other decorative arts.

This was the heady environment that witnessed the flowering of Pennsylvania sgraffito redware pottery, or “Tulip Ware” as it has become affectionately known.  Yes, Tulip Ware is flowery, ornate, and pretty.  It also denotes pride and determination in the face of discrimination and disrespect.  There was no need for individual leaders in that effort, either.

2 dove heart

Reading:

Many Identities, One Nation, The Revolution and It’s Legacy in the Mid-Atlantic.  Liam Riordan.  University of Pennsylvania Press/Philadelphia.  2007.

Champagne

October 6, 2014

I find myself at yet another outdoor show, hoping it won’t rain or get too windy.  (Instead it’s hot, humid and stifling, the customers are wilting.)  How did I end up here?  How did all this begin?

Actually, it all began in the 12th century with the first of the great Medieval Fairs in the fields of Champagne, northern France.  These fairs were a raucous, sprawling combination of trade show, flea market, and circus.  Similar bazaars developed earlier in the more civilized regions of the Middle East, Africa, India, and China – but that’s another story.

For centuries after the fall of Rome, and even during Roman times, Europe had no organized ‘economy’ from which to develop such an event.  At the risk of a sleep-inducing lecture on Medieval economics, two things prevented fairs from developing earlier: Catholic Europe’s antagonism toward usury including (broadly) the concept of commerce, and the manorial fief system that kept artisans tied to one lord’s manor as their sole market base.

Of course a sort of ‘farmer’s market’ existed in towns and villages,  and Jews, Arabs, and other ‘outsiders’ were allowed (barely) to move goods from one place to another to sell at a profit.  But rampaging Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Huns and Vikings were mere memories by the 12th century, and the Black Death was still 100 years in the future.  Cities swelled in this stable environment.  The manor now had competition.

Merchants made the annual trek to the fields of Champagne to stock up and place orders for luxury goods to feed their voracious markets, both old and new.

The great Champagne Fairs eventually faded as competing regional fairs sprouted up.  One surviving craft activity in Champagne was pottery.  A vestige of those far off days could still be seen centuries later in the rustic redware of Troyes.

I’m looking through one end of a telescope at the colorful, exotic beginnings of the modern craft fair.  What would medieval potters from Troyes see if they looked back at me?

Reading:

The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, 950 – 1350.  Robert Lopez.  Cambridge University Press/Cambridge, England.  1976.

Hervey to Some

June 15, 2014

What’s in a name?  Everything, obviously.  Especially when it’s your own name.

This was particularly true for Goshen, CT redware potter Hervey Brooks (1779-1873).  As a child, his parents referred to him as ‘Harvey.’  When his sister Clarissa moved to Missouri Territory in the 1830’s, she addressed her letters to ‘Harvey.’  When he tried to go west like Clarissa and so many others, his mom wrote to him as ‘Harvey.’  (He only got as far as Granville, NY before eventually returning to Goshen.)  Back home his brother John called him ‘Harvey.’  Surviving letters in Old Sturbridge Village’s research library indicate pretty much his whole family called him ‘Harvey’ his entire life.

Of course, spelling was an iffy art form in the early 19th century.  Standardization came later, thanks in great part to Noah Webster.  But its a fair bet to assume intention with spelling that consistent.  And ‘Harvey’ isn’t such an odd name after all – if a bit rare for the time. 

Yet he wrote ‘Hervey’ on every document he ever signed.  He presented himself to the world as "Hervey" his entire adult life.  Again, consistency.

Why ‘Hervey?’  One theory (supported only by the above mentioned observations) imagines him as an adolescent.  Young and rearing to go.  This was the era between the Revolution and the War of 1812 when the entire country was redefining itself.  Creating the new out of the known.  Maybe youth culture expressed itself then, as it so often does, with slang vocabulary and nick-names unique to that atmosphere.  Maybe ‘Hervey’ was one such nick-name.  Maybe he proudly wore it the rest of his life like an old hippy’s long hair.

But none of his relatives seemed to buy into the ‘Hervey’ thing.  Ever. 

So imagine this scenario.  He died.  His family had to arrange his funeral.  They had to pick out a head stone.  They had to instruct the mason what name to carve onto the stone. 

This was their chance.

What would it be?  ‘Hervey’ or ‘Harvey?’

Hervey Brooks Headstone

Readings:

Early New England Potters and Their Wares.  Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard University Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

Hervey Brooks, Connecticut Farmer-Potter; A Study of Earthenware from His Blotters, 1822-1860. Paul Lynn.  State University of New York College at Oneonta, New York.  1969. 

 

We Make Earthenware Fast

May 5, 2013

There was a conversation between two 19th century redware potters that never actually happened.  Their little ‘chat’ was just a letter to a friend and a newspaper ad written in two different states several decades apart.

Norman Judd worked in Rome, NY starting in 1814.  Rome was a frontier boom town at the time,  catering to fortune seekers on their way to the Western Reserve (preset day Ohio).  In such a place people cared only about cheap, instant access to the necessities of life.  Anyone willing to mass produce tableware could make a quick buck.  Bennington trained Judd was just the guy for the job.  He described his life to a friend:

“We make Earthenware fast – have burned 8 kilns since the 8th of last May – amtg to $1500 – Ware here is ready cash.  It is now 8 o’clock at night, I have just done turning bowls – I rest across my mould bench while writing – no wonder if I do make wild shots…”

James Grier faced a very different situation.  When he started his Mount Jordan Pottery in Oxford, PA in 1828, the competition was fierce and growing fiercer.  Grier, and his son Ralph who took over the shop in 1837, followed the (by then) common path of advertising their talents in local newspapers to set themselves apart from the crowd.  Most 19th century pottery ad language tended to the ‘best there ever was’ sort of hyperbole.  But Ralph Grier took a slightly different tack.  An 1868 notice in the “Oxford Press” read:

“EARTHENWARE of all kinds of the very best quality.  No poor ware ‘cracked up’ and foisted upon the public.”

What potter has not at one time or another teetered into the depths of the chasm exposed between these two sentiments?

Readings
American Redware.  William Ketchum Jr.  Holt & Co./Ney York.  1991.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Legal Issues

April 21, 2013

Dirk Claesen was good.  So good the captain of the Graef, sailing Claesen to New Amsterdam from Leeuwerden Holland in 1654, wrote him a letter of introduction.  Claesen was an “extraordinary potter” who “resolves to fix his abode upon the island of Manhattan or Long Island, then you procure him a convenient situation for his settlement and to establish a pottery as he remains satisfied.”

Dirk Claesen truly was good.  He soon married and bought property.  His “potbaker’s corner” plot was the city’s redware production focal point for the next 150 years.  In 1657 Dirk became the first of only four “pottmakers” to receive New Amsterdam Burgher Rights.  His pottery skills served him well.

But things went bad.  Dirk remarried twice.  Legal problems hounded him and his three wives.  In 1655 Wife #1 sued a man for hitting her.  She sued another for stealing her canoe.  Dirk sued Andries Hoppen to pay for pots Hoppen ordered.

In 1660 Wife #1 was sued to pay for wine and beaver pelts she ordered (losing despite Dirk’s plea that he “knows nothing better than that is all paid and sent plaintiff.”).  Wife #2 was sued when her hogs rooted in a neighbor’s garden.  Dirk was sued to take back Wife #1, “the aforesaid woman suffers great want and lies on straw without bed or bedding… and has the ague.”  (She died, ending the case.)

In 1665 Dirk sued Anthony Dirkzen for taking salary as an employee then running off “to fight indians.”  In 1670 Dirk sued to get paid for a brick carrying job.  In 1673 Wife #2 was sued to pay for two beaver pelts.

In 1675 Dirk and Wife #3 were sued by children of Wives 1 and 2 for some property.  Dirk was sued for cutting William Phillips’s nose so badly “that it hung down over his lipps; which is contrary to law and the Peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, etc.”  Apparently, his daughter “had by her impudence enticed William Phillips to come into bed to her, where her father, the potbaker, finding them, caused the disturbance.  The act being found to be evil, she was committed to the sheriff’s custody.”

What’s missing in this messy tale is any description of Dirk Claesen’s pottery.  He was, after all, “extraordinary” at it.  The moral of the story?  Pots come and pots go, but your rap sheet lasts forever.

Reading:
Early Potters and Potteries of New York State.  William Ketchum.  Funk & Wagnalls/New York.  1970.

 

A Jersey Outset

April 7, 2013

Why did men used to need a dowry bribe to marry?  Fortunately, these enlightened days offer men an alternative prenuptial pageant.  And women get bridal showers, so goods are still exchanged.

In the early 19th century a working class bride might instead expect to receive an “outset,” a collection of useful items given by her parents on occasion of her marriage.  People needed many things to start up a household.  Silverware.  Bedding.  Furniture.  And pottery.  Especially inexpensive redware slip trailed with moralistic adages.

Chamber pots were a common gift.  Various kinds of dishes were another.  These were occasions when the parent (or the potter) could have some fun.  “When this you see remember me…”  Or offer words of advice.  “Give drink to the thirsty.”  Or instruct in proper living.  “Visit the sick.”  Sgraffito potters also got in on the act with whole sentences scrawled around plate rims.  “Eating is for existence and life, drinking is also good besides.”  Words to live by.

But one wonders at some sayings trailed onto outset gift plates.  Take, for example, the bacon plate shown below.  “Hard times in Jersey.”  The two most likely makers of this plate were either Henry Van Saun who ran a “Pottery Bake Shoppe” near New Milford, NJ from 1811 to 1829, or George Wolfkiel who bought the old Van Saun shop in 1847 and ran it until 1867.  Wolfkiel is believed to have made a set of dishes for the wedding of a certain Mrs. Zabriskie in nearby Ramsey.  It’s possible that this plate was part of her outset.

You can see this bacon plate today at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford CT.  But what was the message to young Mrs. Zabriskie on the occasion?  Good luck?  Oh well?  Told you so?

Hard times in Jersey

Readings:
The Reshaping of Everyday Life.  John Worrel.  Harper Perennial/New York.  1989.

Kitchen Ceramics.  Selsin, Rozensztroch, and Cliff.  Abbeville Press/New York.  1997.

20 Million Flower Pots

March 24, 2013

Everybody loves an underdog, as the saying goes.  But whenever a rural occupation confronts an industrial revolution, doom results. 

In this regard, early American redware potters were singularly marked.  They might marry the tavern keeper’s daughter (lots of business was transacted in taverns) or open a dry goods store (another reliable outlet) to avoid their fate.  Some switched to stoneware.  Some quit altogether.

Others found salvation in flowerpots

Abraham Hews of Weston MA wasn’t thinking this when he opened a redware shop in 1765.  He relied on ‘word-of-mouth’ sales within walking distance of Weston instead of the huge nearby Boston market.  Still, probate records at his death put him solidly in the middle income bracket.  In fact his was to be one of the few redware potteries to remain active, from father to son, until 1871. 

Abraham Hews II had big plans for the shop.  He actually listed himself in tax roles as “potter” (Abraham I only ever called himself “yeoman”).  Things went well, even though Abraham II phased out extraneous slip decoration after 1800 like most New England redware potters would.

But the writing was on the wall by the 1860’s.  The Hews family began the switch to flowerpots, both molded and hand made, to stay alive.  They relocated next to clay pits shared by North Cambridge MA brick makers in 1871. 

The Panic of 1893 erased  North Cambridge’s brick industry, leaving all that clay to A.C. Hews & Co.  So perhaps it’s no surprise that at the dawn of the 20th century Hews could boast an output of over 20 million flowerpots. More than anyone.  Anywhere.  Ever. 

Plastics finally slew the Hews clay flowerpot business in the 1960’s.  One family’s 200 year involvement in clay ended.  It might date me, but it’s a personal thrill to think that one small slice of redware pottery history saw it’s closing chapter in my own lifetime. 

It’s nice to feel connected.

Readings:
Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850.  Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh, Ed.  Academic Press/New York.  1985.

Early New England Potters and Their Wares.  Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850.  Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh, Ed.  Academic Press/New York.  1985.

The Reshaping of Everyday Life: 1790-1840.  Jack Larkin.  Harper Perennial/New York.  1989.

 

Letters From A Neutral Packet

November 25, 2012

Hervey Brooks (Goshen CT, b.1779 – d.1873) loved the Sacred Harp.  He named his two sons Isaac and Watts in honor of Isaac Watts, an 18th century publisher of Sacred Harp music.  Hervey also loved to make redware.  He continued the trade long after most others in the neighborhood had quit.

Hervey must have had high hopes for at least one of his sons to inherit the shop.  Isaac was, in fact, his apprentice.  As such Isaac shared the entire enterprise including selling clams, trading rags, logging, road repair, and of course farming, along with his potting duties.  At one point Hervey had a wagon load of clocks to trade in Georgia.  Isaac was tasked with the journey.  Isaac made it to Georgia and promptly sent word that he would never return home!

History does not record Hervey’s initial reaction to Isaac’s letter.  But an indication of Hervey’s ire appeared in his ledger: “Due from Isaac Brooks – 1 load clocks, 1 wagon, two years apprenticeship training.”  Isaac owed him big!  This entry stayed in Hervey’s ledger for years.

Isaac would never set foot on New England soil again.  One wonders why.  But years later, in the midst of the Civil War, Isaac’s daughter began sending Hervey letters via neutral packets that sailed between Charleston SC and New Haven CT.  Her letters apparently softened Hervey’s wrath enough to cancel the debt.  After the war, with Hervey widowed and aging, she moved up to Goshen to tend to him in his twilight years.

This bittersweet tale hardly rates a footnote in the trajectory of pottery making in America.  But it does suggest a picture of someone, Hervey, so engrossed in his work that for years he was unable to see the interests of others, especially those closest to him.  Ever a danger to the self employed.

Yet redemption is still possible.

Readings:
Hervey Brooks, Connecticut Farmer-Potter; A Study of Earthenware from His Blotters, 1822-1860.  Paul Lynn.  State University of New York College at Oneonta, New York.  1969.

Early New England Potters and Their Wares.  Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard University Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

 

High Tea

July 22, 2012

Modern potters interested in the Japanese tea ceremony know that the truly great early tea wares came from Japanese (and Korean) farmer potters working with materials at hand for a rice economy.

North American farmer potters worked with materials at hand for a dairy economy.  A Tea Master critique of American redware would be interesting. Of course, Sen no Rikyu and the early Masters’ mining efforts ultimately turned their farmer potters into National Living Treasures.  American farmer potters ended up making drain pipe.

But the West did develop its own ‘tea ceremony.’  Time, place and conversation were prescribed – as in Japan – albeit with differences.  Sculpted Asian tea rites derived from ancient meditative disciplines.  Western tea rites derived from parlor etiquette.

The 17th century introduction of tea and its sibling coffee enormously impacted Western society.  Men huddled in coffee houses, debating reality and plotting revolution.  Women sipped tea in parlors, discovering strength in numbers and life beyond their husbands’ dictates.  Cafes and parlors eventually morphed into the salon culture.

This may seem frivolous compared to the solemn atmosphere of chanoyu.  But it managed to loosen the shackles imposed by hyper conservative Christian Orthodoxy just enough for later historians to call that brief time period “The Age of Reason.”  The Western ‘tea ceremony’ even developed its own sculpted discipline of balancing a dish on one’s knee while politely holding an annoyingly teeny handled cup between thumb and forefinger.

Tea propelled pottery to the forefront of Europe’s Industrial Revolution, modifying pottery along the way.  Westerners liked their tea hot (to dissolve sugar in) and served individually.  Thus, by 1760, necessitating that teeny handled cup.  A full tea set eventually consisted of 41 ceramic items: 12 teacups with saucers, 6 coffee cups with saucers, a teapot with stand, a slop “bason,” a sugar “bason,” and a cream ewer.  A two person “tete-a-tete” could be as few as 8 items.  Distinct foods, like crumpets and scones, accompanied the tea.

And it all centered on the tea pot.  Before radio, families gathered around their “brown betty.”  Watch any old English melodrama and notice how much activity occurs near the teapot.  Your tea set’s quality set the tone of your gathering, and helped establish your spot on the afternoon tea circuit hierarchy.

Then again, concern for hierarchy was equally reflected on both sides of the globe.

Readings:

Ceramics in America.  Ian Quimby, Ed.  University Press of Virginia/Charlottesville.  1972.

China-Trade Porcelain.  John Goldsmith Phillips.  Harvard University Press/Cambridge, MA.  1956.

The Geldermalsen, History and Porcelain. CJA Jörg.  Kemper Publishers/Groningen, The Netherlands.  1986.

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries.  John Thomas. Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.

The Book of Cups.  Garth Clark.  Cross River Press/New York, NY.  1980.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  Reginald Haggar.  Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.